NYC Vaccine Liberation Transforms Nets, NBA Landscape

MIAMI — Allowing Kyrie Irving to play at home isn’t just changing the Nets, Kevin Durant said. It could change the NBA.

Mayor Eric Adams’ announcement of an exemption for unvaccinated athletes and entertainers in the city’s private sector COVID-19 vaccine mandates — the “Kyrie Carve Out” — is a game changer for the NBA playoff race.

“Today I am signing an Emergency Executive Order 62 that extends the benefit exemption to private employer mandates,” said Adams at Citi Field. “This is about giving New York base performers a level playing field.”

Order 62 could rearrange the league’s postseason and change the playing field. Upgrading Irving from a part-time player to a full-time player also upgrades Brooklyn — ranked eighth in the East and deep in the play-in swamp — from spoiler to contender. And maybe even a favorite.

The nets had no comment except for team owner Joe Tsai, who tweeted three grateful emojis, followed by, “Let’s work together to bring back jobs and our New York economy!”

Kyrie Irving, who shot the basket in a recent game against the Grizzlies, can now play all of the Nets' home games for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
Kyrie Irving, who shot the basket in a recent game against the Grizzlies, can now play all of the Nets’ home games for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
USA TODAY sports

Due to his refusal to get vaccinated, Irving has not played at home since June 7 in Game 2 of the Nets’ second-round loss to Milwaukee. But now he’s on track to make his season debut at the Barclays Center against the Hornets on Sunday.

It’s hard to overstate how central this is to Brooklyn. The Nets have the 24th — or seventh-worst — net rating in the league at home and third-best away. Of course, the biggest factor here is Irving, who has averaged 37.8 points in his last four games.

“It just turns our whole team around when he’s out there,” Durant said. “Hopefully we’ll get good news.”

They got it from Adams on Thursday, who gave it along with the following accusation: “Kyrie, you should get vaccinated. That doesn’t change my message that everyone should get vaccinated.”

It might not change its message, but it could change the title race. And the networks are clearly optimistic about the way things have turned out.

“Yes, absolutely,” Irving said Wednesday night, refusing to discuss the mandate. “That jumping in the lineup, jumping out, hoping forward, hopefully we can fix that and put that behind us.”

Now that it’s fixed, ex-76ers scout Michael VandeGarde, who now runs his own boutique scouting service, told The Post the Irving news could be seismic.

“Big shift,” said VandeGarde. “They went from scary but probably not to top 3 or 4 favorites… back into the mix of top 3, 4, 5 teams in no particular order.

“I think the Nets, Milwaukee, Miami, Philly and Celtics could all win the East depending on how they play in the playoffs. … Any team could win … Any team could rebound in the first round with a tough matchup. … Health will also play a major role in some teams. … As wide open as ever.”

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving
USA TODAY sports

The Nets are an unfortunate first-round reward for a team that’s been working to secure a top spot — like the Heat, 76ers, Bucks or Celtics, all within 1 1/2 games on a rough East. Brooklyn started Thursday 2 1/2 games behind the No. 7 Raptors and 3 1/2 behind the No. 6 Cavaliers, who faced each other Thursday night in Toronto.

If the play-in were scheduled for today, the Nets would be out in Toronto on April 12, where Irving is still unable to play. A move up to seventh place would give them the play-in at home.

But this may be less about seeding for the playoffs and more about their viability once they get there.

If they finish 8th like they are now, they’ll be up against a top team from the East (currently a repeat of Saturday’s game in Miami).

The seventh earns a date with number 2, currently a juicy minor fight with Philadelphia. The Nets looked motivated to rout ex-teammate James Harden on March 10 and the prospect of Ben Simmons taking on his old team would make for enticing TV and arguably the tastiest matchup.

Except maybe Milwaukee, a sequel to last year’s Game 7 classic that had Durant’s toe tickling the 3-point line. With the Nets convinced it was only Irving and Harden’s injuries that kept them from beating the champions, a rematch would be drama to behold.

Now that Order 62 has made the nets half full again. NYC Vaccine Liberation Transforms Nets, NBA Landscape


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